April 04, 2020
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Sing What I Can't Say

Only a song indulges what we feel in isolation, and only a song can end solitary isolation. You and I know one another because we listen to the same songs, and what we know of one another in that song may be the best in one another that we'll ever kn

Sing What I Can't Say

Okay, we know him, and the type. The male who will own you because he's insecure, control you because he's possessive. Forever afraid you'll go to someone else, and if rejection he must take, then, at least, ensure you die single, never go to another man; the dog-in-the-manger every woman knows. Mean sentiments, sure, and what but a song could have made them beautiful…'tum agar mujh ko naa chaaho to koi baat nahin, tum kissi aur ko chaahogii to mushqil hogii'

The song has offered us if nothing then a three-minute float of indulgence of that not so nice self, and we need many more of those minutes than we ever have the courage to admit. 

Who would want to grudge this man -- and there's some, even much, of him in all of us -- at the very least a three-minute suspension of judgment? And who admits how much we secretly identify with songs, and the sentiment a song carries for us? The truth is that no one ever listens to a song; it is the song that listens to us, when no one else will. 

Mukesh never did sing to us. We quietly know he sang for us to give voice to our feelings, chained in inability and embarrassed by expected judgment. This song and that, heard or recalled through a day, is really doing far more than we usually acknowledge. For a start, just the sound of one offers instant, if fleeting, rescue from the business of living. But more, identification brings needed illusion. It can be the sole supplier of a new, improved self, and this too is business that needs to get done through a day. 

It says for us what we are afraid to, even if it's to a notional other. It teases a dream with an edge of actuality. The visions may be the stuff of dreams, but the feelings are actual, here and now. A song is intimacy without a person necessarily attached to it. And in those moments when we are with the song, we are our feeling, not our conduct -- that will never be good enough, and certainly never seen to be good enough. What other see is conduct, what we know is feeling. A song is the only alibi too often of a felt truth that is different from judgment. A song indulges felt truth, it forgives, as it did the antics of a Raj Kapoor when Sahir redeemed them by song with only the gentlest hint of self-mockery, to music arranged by Roshan, that master of the teasing pause that is and isn't. What you hear in those near pauses, as much as in the words, is the voice of entreaty. 

The kind of voice is now drowned in entertainment. Most composers seem unable any more to tell the difference between an arrangement of notes and a combination of sound effects. This probably started with that glutton Bappi Lahiri who was once allowed accidentally near a harmonium, to our collective misfortune through the eighties. Our cinema has always been a fairly backward sort of excuse to make great music possible, but both cinema and music sank with Bappi. After that it could only have got better, and it has. But the betterment comes too much by way of 'numbers', not songs.  

The idea now more and more is not to create a song that moves you, but to produce 'numbers' that get you moving, on this floor and the next. The one who produces these 'numbers' needs to be helped, the one who prefers a 'number' to a song deserves to be pitied, and the one who doesn't know the difference ought to be educated. If there was ever only one thing to be said about songs, it would have to be that line from Shelley - "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought" -  almost improved in translation by Shailendra: Hain sab se madhur vo geet jinhe hum dard ke sur mein gaatey hain. . Today an alarming number of the population finds in a song only an excuse to exhibit body gyration. 

A true song is one that you will always remember and often recall. Most songs of today are forgotten as you hear them. The availability of easily manipulated sound effects has almost smothered the song that could have emerged through them. The minute something begins to sound vaguely impressive, it is released far too early in the creative process. At least nine in ten songs today are premature ejaculation. The song can never stand alone, the notes rarely harmonise with words to invite identification with sentiment. The music director must generate accompaniment to spectacle, make an 'item' possible. 

Someone, please hear this groan. No, you can't go back in time, but you can go forward in the knowledge of what has worked before, and always will. A song is nothing but an arrangement of words and notes to a rhythm. That can always be possible, whatever the times. And there is great power in the way some notes can hang around one another. Political power is nothing compared to the power of this arrangement: it only governs details of the day. 

If we recall a song, then it's not only about the world of music; it's about us, our own world. Its privacy touches us, its commonness connects, its repetition reassures. It's okay for music to make us move a bit, but we do also need to switch on refuge for the hurtable part of the self, to hug our helplessness, to dress our sadness in borrowed beauty, make futility exquisite.  

Our music directors can make all this possible, and we need them to. Only a song indulges what we feel in isolation, and only a song can end solitary isolation. You and I know one another because we listen to the same songs, and what we know of one another in that song may be the best in one another that we'll ever know. Conversation will fail us, we know, because we'll never be able to say what our song knows. Our music directors need to say again for us what we can only feel, never say. Please, our emotions are getting orphaned. 

Sanjay Suri is the author of Brideless In Wembley

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